April 11, 2013

Deal favors more gun buyer checks

The bipartisan agreement by two senators may make it easier for conservatives to support more controls.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Conservative senators from both parties said Wednesday that they support expanded background checks for gun buyers, giving a burst of momentum to advocates of stronger restrictions. But big questions remain about whether President Obama can push significant gun controls through Congress.

Pat Toomey, Joe Manchin
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In Washington, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., listens as Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., discusses the deal they reached on expanding background checks to more gun buyers.

The Associated Press

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WASHINGTON - Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said they were encouraged by a compromise struck on background checks for gun buyers on Wednesday.

But with details of the compromise still emerging, both said they wanted to read through the actual wording.

"I think they have done a good job, but this issue is so complex and the details matter," said Collins, a Republican.

The compromise would require background checks for all firearms sold at gun shows and online. Transactions between family members would continue to be exempt.

The text of the amendment had not been released publicly as of Wednesday evening. However, it appears that the proposal would require background checks for any private, person-to-person transaction in which the seller advertised the firearm. If so, that would capture an untold number of sales that occur in Maine through online postings and venues such as the popular swap magazine Uncle Henry's.

King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he also was still learning the details but called the compromise "great news."

"It is going to help us get background checks, which I think is the most important thing we can do," King said. "Secondly, it's great news because it was forged on a bipartisan basis. ... And that's the way we should be doing business around here."

Collins has said she supported expanding the federal background check requirements, which currently only apply to gun sales by licensed dealers. But like other Republicans, she had raised concerns about how and where any background check records would be maintained. Gun rights groups such as the NRA had accused bill backers of attempting to move toward a "national registry" of gun owners.

While she has been the target of ads, letter-writing and social media campaigns from out-of-state groups on both sides, Collins said she is basing her votes on feedback from Mainers.

"I think this proposal appears very promising," she said, but added that until she reads the actual legislative language she would withhold final judgment. 

-- Kevin Miller, Maine Today Media Washington Bureau Chief

The compromise between Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., boosted chances that the Senate will agree to broaden required background checks, a step that gun control groups laud as an effective way to keep weapons from criminals and the mentally ill. The senators are among the most conservative members of their parties -- both have received "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association -- and their endorsements could make it easier for hesitant colleagues to back the effort.

Gun control advocates still face opposition from many Republican senators and resistance from moderate Democrats, including several facing re-election next year in GOP-leaning states. In the Republican-run House, leaders have shown little enthusiasm for Obama's ideas, making that chamber an even higher hurdle.

Under the agreement the two senators announced at the Capitol, background checks would be expanded to all for-profit transactions, including sales at gun shows and online, with records kept by licensed gun-dealers who would handle the paperwork.

Checks would not be required for private transactions between individuals, unless there was advertising or an online service involved. Currently, the system applies only to sales by the country's 55,000 federally licensed firearms dealers.

The agreement also contains provisions expanding firearms rights, and that concerns gun control supporters. Some restrictions on transporting guns across state lines would be eased, sellers would be shielded from lawsuits if the buyer passed a check but later used a firearm in a crime, and gun dealers could conduct business in states where they don't live.

"Truly the events at Newtown changed us all," said Manchin, citing the Connecticut town where December's murders of 20 first-graders and six educators propelled gun control to the top rank of national issues. "Americans on both sides of the debate can and must find common ground," he said.

Emotion, always prominent in the gun issue, cropped up late Wednesday when Manchin met with relatives of the Newtown victims in his Senate office, telling them that "this will not be in vain." He became choked up when a reporter asked about the impact of the family members' visit, saying, "I'm a parent, a grandparent ... and I had to do something."

Said Toomey: "Criminals and the dangerously mentally ill shouldn't have guns. I don't know anyone who disagrees with that premise." He said that expanding the checks wasn't gun control, "just common sense."

The agreement makes it all but certain that the Senate will reject a conservative blockade and vote Thursday to begin debating Democrats' gun legislation. Besides broader background check requirements, the bill would also toughen laws against illicit firearms sales and provide a small increase in school security aid.

Underscoring that the fight was far from over, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said the organization opposes the Manchin-Toomey accord. The group, which has fought most of Obama's gun proposals and claims nearly 5 million members, said the focus should be on improving the nation's mental health system and targeting sources of violence, such as gangs.

"Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools," the NRA said.


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